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By Laura McPhail, Mann Center for the Performing Arts

Innovative programming is the name of the game at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts this summer. In an effort to reach out to new audiences while continuing to entertain the loyal Mann attendees, the popular music venue brought three big talents to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra during its 2012 summer season. This “cross-over classical” programming proved to be a hit across various demographics.

The goal was to bridge the gap across generations and to introduce orchestral music to audiences who normally might not venture out for an evening of classical fare. The first of these three cross-over shows joined Idina Menzel with The Philadelphia Orchestra on June 30 for her Idina Menzel Barefoot at the Mann show. Fans of all ages, from tween fans of the hit television show Glee to older fans of the Broadway hit shows Rent and Wicked (Menzel is famous for roles in all three of these) crowded the Mann Center for an unforgettable evening of music, laughter and memories. The highlight of this evening was when Menzel went down into the audience and randomly chose two females to join her in a duet from Rent. Kristi Reeves, 30, of Havertown, Pa., and Kailey Radcliffe sang “Take Me or Leave Me” with the Broadway idol as the crowd cheered them on.

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

When Reeves was selected by Menzel from the crowd of hopefuls, she couldn’t believe her luck. “Being on stage at the Mann was awesome; I could get used to that! You can always dream about how it would feel or what it would be like when you sing with your idol, but when it actually happens to you…there are really just no words. It was by far the coolest thing that has ever happened to me,” said Reeves.

Audience interaction was once again a key element in the July 19 performance of world-renowned jazz trumpeter Chris Botti with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Botti and guest singer Lisa Fischer descended into the crowd to serenade a couple who became engaged in front of the Mann Center audience. In fact, Botti had a “Meet the Artist” session earlier that day with young members of the Clef Club in Philadelphia. In this workshop, Botti taught and inspired the aspiring musicians by offering insight and words of wisdom during the hour-long jam session.

In the final of the three Knight Arts Challenge supported cross-over classical shows for the 2012 season, the Mann teamed the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Eímear Noone to bring the music of The Legend of Zelda™: Symphony of the Goddesses to life.” The crowd was composed mainly of gamers and technology enthusiasts who were there to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the popular video game series. The music accompanied visuals from all 16 versions of the game that were broadcast on giant screens at the front and the back of the venue. The crowd’s wild enthusiasm (many even wore costumes of their favorite characters) was rewarded with three encores.

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

These three shows met and exceeded the goals the Mann Center was striving for when creating the concept of cross-over classical music. Attendance for a regular orchestra show generally hovered around 2,500; attendance for these shows averaged almost 4,100. However, even more impressive than the number of tickets sold is the number of people who attended shows at the Mann for the first time or even experienced non-traditional classical music for the first time. The Mann Center plans to continue its endeavor to reach new audiences in the years to come by incorporating additional interesting musical programs that cross genres.

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

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